Nutrient Budgeting in Organic Grain Production (2016-2017)
Final Report for OFRF Research Grant
Iris Vaisman, Prairie Organic Grain Initiative
Dr. Martin Entz, Plant Sciences Department, University of Manitoba
Joanne Thiessen Martens, Plant Sciences Department, University of Manitoba
1. Project Summary
The Nutrient Management Program was a collaboration of farmers, agronomists, the
University of Manitoba, and the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative. The program was created to
address the need for a better understanding of green manure and fertility management. The
initial desired outcome was to enable farmers to make better decisions about green manures.
However, as the program evolved, other outcomes emerged.
Green manures (GMs) play an essential role in organic grain-based systems on the
Canadian prairies by contributing to soil health, cash crop yield, and grain quality. While this is
well documented on research farms, a recent scan conducted by the Prairie Organic Grain
Initiative (POGI), indicated poor adoption of GMs and lack of proper GM management by
farmers. Concurrently, surveys of organic farms across the prairies have revealed nutrient
deficiencies, ultimately decreasing yield potential (Knight et al 2010, Entz et al 2001). Farmers
need to understand the link between GMs, soil health, nutrients, cash crop grain yield, and
grain quality, in the context of a whole farm nutrient budget. Farmers need to have access to
knowledge that gives them confidence to make decisions about the diversity of options in GM
species, termination method, and termination timing. Furthermore, farmers would benefit
from a spreadsheet tool that would allow them to calculate their farm nutrient budget while
also allowing them to run alternative crop rotation and nutrient management scenarios.
At the same time, farmers have expressed the need for on-farm visits by knowledgeable
agronomists. Each organic farm is unique and having one-on-one extension would be extremely
beneficial. Unfortunately, there are few trained organic agronomists on the Prairies. And so this
was the context in which the Nutrient Management Program was created.
The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative launched the two-year program in 2016. POGI advertised
the program to organic farmers and agronomists across the Canadian Prairies (Manitoba,
Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia). Farmers were then matched with agronomists.
Most of the agronomists previously participated in POGI’s Organic Agronomy training program
in 2016. The agronomists ranged from government extension workers, private agronomists,
and university employees.
The agronomists in the program were supported by POGI and received training through
the University of Manitoba. This included webinars, emails, shared documents, and phone calls.
The webinars covered the methodology of proper plant and soil sampling, how to interpret
results, how to establish a nutrient budget, and how to co-design management advice for
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